Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

Battle for Yemen's biggest port under way

A Saudi-led coalition launched an assault on Yemen's main port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday in the biggest battle of a three-year war between an alliance of Arab states and the Iran-aligned Houthis.

The port of Hodeidah is perhaps the most important strategic location in the war.

By Wednesday night, the offensive remained on the outskirts of the rebel-held airport.

CARE International, one of the few aid agencies still there, said 30 airstrikes hit the city within half an hour. "That was the situation before, and now it is going to get worse".

The fighting Wednesday led to the closure of Hudaida's Red Sea port, which will affect food and medicine deliveries to Yemen.

Saudi Arabian warplanes and warships began pounding the fortifications of the Iranian-supplied Houthi rebels this morning, to support ground operation "Golden Victory" led by Yemeni troops massed south of the port of Hodeidah, witnesses told Reuters.

"The hampering of the function of the seaport will for sure have an impact on the population's living conditions and the capacity for them to cope with the current crisis", he added.

"The liberation of Hudaydah port is a turning point in our struggle to recapture Yemen from the militias that hijacked it to serve foreign agendas", the exiled government said.

"We condemn to the fullest extent the launch of an attack by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition on Yemen's port city of Hodeidah", he said.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, who has threatened attacks on tankers entering the Red Sea, warned the alliance not to attack and said on Twitter his forces had struck a coalition barge. Houthi forces have fired missiles at ships previously. There was no immediate confirmation from the coalition.

The ongoing Coalition intervention in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate Government of Yemen after Houthi rebels took the Yemeni capital by force in 2014. A Saudi-led airstrike in 2015 destroyed cranes at Hudaida.

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The United Nations and other aid groups already had pulled their worldwide staff from Hodeida ahead of the rumored assault.

The port remains open, with supplies arriving.

"We foiled a sea landing of Saudi and Emirati forces near the port of Hodeidah", Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthi movement's political bureau, told the al-Mayadeen.

Aid groups nevertheless warned of disaster. Lasting peace and stability in Yemen will require dialogue and negotiation.

The UN human rights office OHCHR estimates that at least 6,439 civilians have been killed and more than 10,000 injured since Saudi-backed forces began air strikes in Yemen in 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes have killed large numbers of civilians and damaged vital infrastructure.

Riyadh says the Houthis use the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities - accusations denied by the group and Iran.

Meanwhile, the battle for the last remaining lifeline continues, after some 2,000 troops from UAE's Eritrean naval base landed west of Hodeidah to seize the port, AP reported. Already, Yemeni security officials said some were fleeing the fighting. The sound of heavy, sustained gunfire clearly could be heard in the background.

That's how many ads we run on this site. "Some workers have left to their villages for fear of the war", said Mohamed, a Hodeida resident who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the world body was talking to both sides to try to avert a battle.

Today marked a watershed moment in the Yemeni conflict; a day the Saudi-led coalition has sought to avoid but had become impossible to delay for the sake of the Yemeni people.

Washington had also cautioned against the assault.

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